Area-X – 3/5 of the way through

Area-X is a game that I have greatly enjoyed from a story perspective – and I love the characters and the art – but which I find frustrating from a game perspective.

I would describe Area-X as a visual novel with adventure game elements. For the most part, you are reading, and making some decisions about what to say or do. Occasionally there are puzzles. There are five basic routes, but only two of these are available to you at the beginning.

It’s the closing-off of the other three routes that I found frustrating.

One of the things I enjoy most about visual novels and similar games is making choices and seeing how they pan out. But I found it difficult to judge in Area-X which choices would lead me to which ending. This is something I don’t mind the first time I play a game, or at all, if I don’t feel like I’m getting dead-ended. But in order to open up the other routes, you have to not only complete the first two routes but get all four endings.

At which point, you stop playing the game naturalistically, and start meta-gaming it.

For two of the three routes I’ve played, the choices I needed to make for the good ending weren’t always obvious, but they all seemed like they were choices I could reasonably make. For the third route, I can’t imagine that I would ever play the game naturalistically and get the good ending. Which I could accept as an artistic choice – except that I had to get that ending to open up the next two routes.

And the way the story plays out, those second two routes aren’t just ‘nice to haves’. I can see why the creator chose to close off those routes to begin with – although I’m not convinced it was necessary – but I don’t think the implementation worked. It highlighted the arbitrary nature of some of the decision points, and honestly, I don’t think you should need hints to feel like you’re able to explore a game in its entirety.

As it is, I feel like I was shoe-horned into consuming the story in a certain way – a way that made it feel less like a game, and more like an interlinking series of novellas. And I wanted the game. I wanted to explore the choices – but instead, I had to do as the author wanted.

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